One of two American System-Built Homes in Beverly just listed for sale. A pre-packed Frank Lloyd Wright design, the H. Howard Hyde House is a relic of a short-lived partnership with real estate developer Arthur L. Richards struck up in order to bring Wright’s ideas to Regular Joes. Hyde was a cashier at International Harvester, and reportedly paid $6,000 for the house. If there’s an equivalent opportunity for wage workers today–say, a path to a Frank Gehry home–I can’t think of it. Buyers could choose from seven models, with prices tamped down through streamlined assembly. An entire subdivision was planned on South Hoyne Avenue, but in the entire Midwest, only an estimated 25 American System homes were built. Fifteen survive, including two in Chicago and four in the North and West suburbs.
The four-bedroom, 2,448-square-foot Hyde looks anything but mass produced. Some of the flourishes found in Wright’s commissions from this period—floating rooflines with dramatic overhangs, cantilevering, broad porches, and art glass windows by the hundreds—are subdued or subtracted in this iteration, but the composition is as pleasing as ever with restored stucco and new landscaping corralled by a gridded sidewalk. The house wasn’t meant to be square, but the first owner filled in a gap in the footprint with what is now kitchen and office space.
Inside, simplicity reigns. Instead of the signature art glass designs that Wright liked to assign to high-budget works, windows are granted squiggly leaded lines. Instead of a grand two-sided hearth with built-in benches and lamps serving an open living and dining space, you get an elegent one-sided wood-burning fireplace for the modest-size living room. White ceilings are unadorned, except where replica period lighting comes into play.
This is not to say that there hasn’t been significant repair and upgrade over the years. Sellers John and Martie Brennan bought in 1999 for $218,000 and spared no expense through a several-year restoration in returning the home to a condition worthy of its pioneering origins and landmark status. More than a quarter million was spent, according to John. “Our goal was to restore,” he says, “but also to make the home very personal and livable for us and our kids.”
The changes were significant: eight layers of paint were stripped from the walls, the kitchen newly appointed, oak flooring returned to its original luster, birch trim added in accordance with Wright’s sketches, a third more private entry was incorporated into the rear of the home, and the basement given new living space. “The lion’s share of the work was in restoring and accenting the woodwork,” says listing agent Joseph Thouvenell of P.R.S. Associates. It’s in such solid shape that the Brennans are asking more than three times what they paid, which, incidentally, is the highest price per square foot in the neighborhood.
More than 1,000 people filed through the house in May for the annual Beverly Hills/Morgan Park Home Tour, wanting to see inside the transformed house for the first time. They couldn’t have known it would be headed to market six weeks later. The Brennans are downsizing within the neighborhood
Despite this huge local draw, Beverly is notable for having a tidy collection of innovative Wright homes that fly under the radar. There’s little regional audience for the two American System-Built houses, the “fireproof” house on Longwood Drive, or the handsome proto-Prairie William and Jessie Adams House, listed and sold last year for $980,000.